Special -- The Offering: An Invitation to Joy and Gratitude
In Franco Zeffirelli's film about Francis of Assisi, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, there's a scene in which the townspeople bring their gifts to the poor but lovingly rebuilt church of San Damiano, while the powerful people sit morosely in their majestic cathedral in Assisi. The people who have followed Francis beyond the edges of town bring simple gifts of flowers, vegetables and lambs, and it's clear that they represent those on the edges of society, welcomed and loved in their new church home. As the music builds from a single voice to a chorus, soaring and lovely, most viewers find it hard to resist wishing that the offering in their church might embody this same spirit of profound joy and deep gratitude.
Rescuing the Offertory from the Awkward and the Somber
Indeed, the Call to the Offering in our worship services is often an awkward moment! Perhaps it has something to do with our attitudes and feelings about money itself, or our anxiety about giving. The Call to the Offering is sometimes mistakenly perceived as a necessary "housekeeping" task inserted into the rest of worship. Leaders may see themselves "doing their duty" of asking for money. Suppose they began to see themselves extending a gracious invitation to celebrate and respond to God's goodness?
And very often churches find themselves employing very quiet, meditative (though certainly lovely) music at this time, making the Offering time so somber that it hardly expresses praise and joyful gratitude! Perhaps it has something to do with the pattern in many churches of using the time while the offering is collected as "down time" from all the words of the rest of the service, so that people may pray privately and absorb the message. Certainly our services benefit from more silence and meditative time, but could that time be found during a pastoral prayer, or in a special "meditative moment" after the sermon? The Offering time could then be freed up to become a more communal, more mission-oriented, more festive and joyful part of worship.
The Offering: A Teaching Moment
If every moment in the life of the church is a teaching moment, then the Offering is a important moment to teach about God's giving to us and our giving back to God a portion of the abundance we've received. It's a perfect moment to teach about God's goodness and our longing to respond, each in our way and to the best of our ability. It's a moment that reminds us that our gifts stand for our hope to repair the world, to preach the Good News, to be the Body of Christ together. Our gifts of money, time, and talent bring our personal and corporate commitments to life.
The Offering also offers a teaching moment about the wider mission of the church. Once a quarter, a church leader may come forward and explain that the first gift this morning is from our local church to the wider church through Our Church's Wider Mission. The church treasurer, who may not often have a role in worship, could bring that gift forward and place it in the offering plate as the leader gives an example of just one ministry (among many) supported by this gift. It is a deep joy to experience ourselves as a giving community and part of something greater than ourselves.
The Offering: A Festive Moment
Here are a few practical suggestions that a congregation can consider to make the Offering more an expression of thanks and praise:
Invite with Warmth and Confidence
God loves a cheerful giver, so should not our invitation be cheerful and confident? Our words of invitation need to "break the ice" that seems to set in around the time of the Offering, and they ought to remind us not to be afraid to show the gratitude and joy we feel. What a difference it makes to end the invitation, for example, with the words, "Let us gather our gifts together and bring them to God as an offering of gratitude and praise!" Depending on the skill of the leader, the invitation may be spontaneous or written in advance, but it should relate to the readings of the day and to the congregation's life and commitments. Included in this edition of Worship Ways is a set of model invitations which are based on the lectionary readings for these seasons.
Embody the Giving in Different Ways:
Make Offering Time more literally the "work of the people," as liturgy truly is, by inviting the people to be less spectators or audience and more active participants.
Invite the members from time to time to leave their pews and bring their gifts forward in a lively procession.
Invite the people to stand, one row at a time, beginning at the back as the ushers bring the offering forward. This not only draws everyone's attention to what is happening, but also creates a physical sense of bringing the gifts forward together.
Involve the children in collecting and bringing the gifts.
Choose music that is spirited and lively, and lends a festival air to the moment.
In a day when more and more people are giving electronically, in addition to those who give monthly or even annually, there's the challenge of including everyone in the offering, as well as those who can not give on any given day. The United Church of Christ has a new "giving card" that churches can place in the pews so that folks can place a card in the plate that stands for the gift they have given in other ways. One pastor has suggested that we can also be invited to write on a slip of paper (again, provided in the pews) something we intend to "give up" that week, including a grudge, a worry, or a bad habit. In such creative ways, everyone is included!
A Consecration Sunday Ritual
A very special offering happens on Consecration Sunday, and if circumstances permit, more elements can be added to the celebration. Everyone is invited forward to bring their pledge, their gift for the day, or that "other gift" described above, and place it in a basket on the table, and then take a taper and line the walls of the church, again, while spirit-filled music is played. Then the pastor begins the lighting of the tapers, perhaps from the Christ candle, and everyone can sing, This Little Light of Mine. On this occasion, all the people form a circle of love and commitment, seeing and experiencing themselves as one family around a table, one community watching itself grow deeper in its oneness, deeper in its love, deeper in its shared vision. As a church grows in numbers and in faithfulness, this tradition becomes more meaningful with each passing year.
The Offering: an Invitation to Joy and Gratitude was written by Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey, Minister for Minister for Covenantal Stewardship, Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry Team, LCM.
©2008 Local Church Ministries, Worship and Education Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.